Monday, December 21, 2009

It Is Hard To Call It Disappointment...

...because in order to feel disappointment one had to have had strong expectations of a positive outcome.

The lead article of the latest edition of the magazine Shukan Asahi brings together a passel of politics mavens to rate the performances of various members the Hatoyama Cabinet at this, the year's end.

Receiving the highest score of 96 points from the judges is, unsurprisingly, State Minister for Administrative Reform Sengoku Yoshito. The minister responsible for the sessions that shone a light into the national budget's darker corners, Sengoku looked more like a goat than a hero when Democratic Party Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro stripped the Government Revitalization Unit of all its freshman members after their nominations had already been announced. The GRU's exposure of the astonishing variety of failed or moribund projects still drawing funds from the public purse resurrected Sengoku's stature. He will remain in political hot water for some time, having been one of the first Democrats to call for Ozawa's resignation as party leader after the arrest of Ozawa's political secretary Okubo Toshinori in the spring (Okubo's trial started on Friday). In terms of the achievements he has overseen, however, Sengoku is in fine fettle.

On the other end of the ledger, receiving the rock-bottom score of 24 from the Asahi Shukan judges is, unfortunately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary has numerous responsibilities, including:

1) convincing the people of the government's good faith

2) preventing the prime minister from tripping himself up

3) keeping the government's program on course in the manner of a duck swimming: moving forward smoothly and seemingly effortlessly on the surface, paddling like all heck underneath.

Based on these criteria, can one argue that Hirano does not deserve the miserable rating he has received from the Shukan Asahi judges?

Most everyone is dumping on Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio for his vaporous pronouncements, his too quick willingness to appear in agreement with his interlocutors (when in his heart, he knows that he does not agree with them) and his hanging on as if for dear life to the promises made in the DPJ's Manifesto. Everyone knew about these attributes (they should not be contemptuously derided as faults - that is too easy) of the man before he became the PM.

In criticism one must be accurate...and not criticize the wrong man for the wrong thing.

It was Hirano's responsibility to mitigate the potential bad effects of the PM's more incorrigible habits as well as rein in the quirks of this decidedly quirky cast of Cabinet officers. If Hirano did not think himself up to the task of ringmaster of this circus then he should not have accepted the position.

Hatoyama's mistake, for which he should be criticized, was in offering the Chief Cabinet Secretary post to Hirano, his faithful lieutenant, rather than to a more forceful and independent-minded candidate. A prime minister of course needs a loyalist in the Chief Cabinet Secretary position. He also needs someone who engages himself/herself in the management of the government with relish, dispatching enemies and cowering allies with a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue.

Hirano so far does not seem to fit that bill.

Over the New Year's holidays the PM, Hirano and other DPJ members of the Cabinet have the time to meet and talk about what worked during these first few months and what did not. It is possible that out of these discussions new management structures or understandings of roles will emerge. The current government is far from disfunctional. Nevertheless, its indiscipline is generating too much far too much news.

A more energetic, even volcanic Chief Cabinet Secretary seems a necessary first step to a smoother-running policy-implemention machine.

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